Thursday, October 31, 2013

Part Seventy-Two, Chapter Seven - Teenie Pushes a Guy's Buttons

Unabridged version here.  At least it's all consensual between people near the same age.

Madison is a flat-out terrible viewpoint character for these chapters.  He's the guy who, as a five-year-old boy, ended up sleeping with his mother in a non-wholesome sense because psychology, but right now his role in the story is to gawk and say things like the boys in the audience are "much too young to be subjected to female nakedness, even that as immature as Teenie's."  If you're going to subject your audience to a world of rape, murder, and sexual deviancy, at least be consistent with it.

Anyway, on with Teenie's technical demonstration.  She goes over to a wheeled display board (computer screens?  projectors? not in this advanced alien civilization) bearing a picture of a nude dude.  She jokes about the artist drawing the (bleep) too large and drops a pun about getting "the point," then points out the 172 little X's she's drawn on the body.

"They are called the erotic spotsTouching them or manipulating them can bring about sexual stimulation, prolong it or cool it off."  Jabbing with her scepter she rattled them off, for each one had a name.  English?  Chinese?  She turned to the assemblage, quite out of breath, and smiled.  "I know it seems an awful lot, but nevertheless, you must know each one and know just how to use it."

Wait, you may ask, aren't these guys aliens?  Sure, they look human, but their internal biology must be different, since Heller has microscope vision while Voltarians are allegedly super-suspectible to drugs.  Who's to say this anatomy lesson is applicable to both species?  And what about variations in sensitivity between individuals within those species?  Surely everyone has different sweet spots?

Shut the hell up, says the author, you'll miss all the underage sex acts.

"You will see these boards again in subsequent evening classes.  The palace artist, who is a very splendid fellow really, despite his exaggerated idea of (bleeps)..."  She paused to let their laughter pass. "He offered to make copies of this for you, but the information is secret. So these boards will be placed in the basement near the rear portcullis and you can slip in and out to your heart's content and study them"

Geddit?  'cause the boys are gay?

Next Teenie asks for a volunteer - a virginal volunteer, 'cause that's important.  She picks one lucky fifteen-year-old, who is soon stripped by Teenie's two assistants.  And then the magic begins.  By pressing spots on the kid's spine, lower outside right thigh, lower middle lip, neck, base of throat, etc., she's able to get a "response" from him.  And get that response to go away.  And immediately return.  And so forth.

So I'm eating my words about a girl being able to give sex tips to gay guys.  Also, try not to use all these devastating sexual tricks for evil purposes, like tapping people on the shoulder so they embarrass themselves in public.

Thoroughly (bleeped) out, the test subject drops to his knees, expresses his adoration of Queen Teenie, and swears his eternal allegiance to this girl with the magic touch.  She dismisses him, but promises that her two assistants will soon relieve him of his virginity.  The crowd choruses "Long Live Your Majesty," bowed heads and bent knees, glowing adoration, etc.

Madison was torn between revulsion at what she had just demonstrated and sheer awe at the power she had over these misguided youths.  Oh Lord, he prayed, if I could just somehow channel this INFLUENCE in handling Heller!

It's going to take another fifty pages for us to see how Madison hopes to use these... pages for his own purposes.  He'll employ them for one chapter, get his position as Lombar's media specialist, and spend the remainder of the story playing reporter, with the royal pages being mentioned maybe twice in the rest of the book.

But, this gave the author an excuse to write about a preteen girl touching underage boys on a stage in front of an audience, so here we are.  It's plot-relevant depravity, you see.  It shows how... y'know, psychology.  And satire.  Just imagine how awful it'd have been if Lombar had agreed immediately to Madison's request for funding, allowing him to go straight to his PR shennanigans rather than watch Teenie play around for sixty pages.  With dozens of pages.


Back to Chapter Six

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Part Seventy-Two, Chapter Six - Teenie Ascends the Throne

I think Madison has a brain thing.  First he's set on continuing the Heller job, now all he can think about is how he needs Teenie to do the Heller job, to use her INFLUENCE! among the palace pages to... profit?  His tiny mind cannot conceive of any other possible way to make Heller a media sensation than by somehow utilizing an oversexed and underage girl.  For someone who makes his living by making up stories, Madison has a strange lack of creativity here.

There's a bustle of activity for about of page, which boils down to the mansion staff preparing a stage and throne, decorated with about as much restraint as you can expect given previous chapters.  Madison continues to sit, chained to a chair, spittle still oozing down his face, an angry alien with an electrically-charged axe standing guard over him.  A good time to reflect on one's life and situation, in other words, and maybe try to wipe that goo off your face with a hanky... wait, he's been shackled...

"Sit still!" snarled Hammer and blocked his motion with the axe.  Madison froze: little chains of sparks were racing up and down that blade, giving off the odor of ozone.  He recoiled: It wasn't just a ceremonial axe as he had thought--it was an electric weapon.  Gods knew what it would do!  Would the sparks jump?  He hoped it wouldn't touch his chains: it could electrocute him!  He let the spittle drip.  Maybe they were tears now, for he certainly felt like crying.  In all of his career as a PR,

Did I say "reflect?"  Because I meant "launch into a page-long, rambling paragraph."

he had never felt quite so dejected--except maybe that time he had accidentally wrecked the country of Patagonia, or perhaps that afternoon he had icily been dismissed by the president of an international airline Rockecenter had told him to PR, or possibly the dreadful day the presidential candidate Bury had given him as a client suddenly announced he had gone insane.  Unaccountable failures dogged his life.  He certainly hoped that somehow he would not fail again on Heller: it was his only hope.  Or did

Mr. Hubbard, tear down this wall of text.

he have any hope left, sitting here in this overwhelming hall waiting on the whim of a juvenile delinquent from New York?  Would that little pathological liar and infant con artist really try him and sentence him to death?  He decided she would.  Maybe if he threatened to expose her and tell these Voltarians that "movie queen" was just an expression, not royalty.... Oh, no!  They would kill him if he even so much as looked like he was being critical.  She had even taken care of that!  He could think of no way to reach her.  Actual tears began to mix with the spit.

Yeah, I always think of Mission Earth as a cocktail of various bodily excretions too.

The servants start leading guests in, "handsome and pretty" young boys with shiny page badges.  Madison reminds us that "They appeared to range in age from eight to fifteen, but one couldn't really tell with these long-lived people," because I guess at some point someone explained that Voltarians lived longer than humans.  But doesn't that make it all better?  See, these guys are all probably over 18 Earth-years old.  Sure, by their planet's standards they're still minors, and sure they're about as physically and emotionally developed as our 13- or 15-year-olds, but technically they're of legal age, or would be on our planet, so it's all okay!  Nobody gets to go to jail!

Once two hundred of the kids assemble in the chamber, a spotlight goes on to illuminate Teenie, now in a scarlet military uniform with gold crown, trim, cape, scepter, etc.  She makes a big entrance among much fanfare - horns, cymbals, instruments playing "a stately air of celestial majesty," good normal music like you'd hear on Earth, and happened to be in the West.  No alien equivalents to the erhu or bagpipes or anything, that wouldn't be classy at all.

After ascending the throne with the help of her two boy toys from earlier, a seneschal announces that there are virgins among the audience tonight!  Good for them?  Teenie gives a big smile, the whole crowd sighs in ecstasy, and Teenie begins her address in a courtly accent amplified by a microphone hidden in her throne or something.

"Welcome, welcome, my dear, loyal vassals and sweet friends.  I spread my love upon you and accept your kisses on my feet.  May the blessings of a thousand Heavens rain into your waiting lips."  She paused and gave a sly smile.  "And into your hips as well."  There was a patter of applause.  Teenie smiled more broadly.  "I thank you from my bottom."

Instant cheers broke out.

Then the boys were throwing her kisses.

Teenie beamed.  "I love you, too!" she said.

Wait, I thought these kids were catamites?  Homosexuals, in other words?  Guess it's all platonic, non-sexual love.  Conveyed through sexually-charged language.

Teenie announces that it's time to start her lecture, and the crowd goes wild with anticipation, while I experience the exact opposite reaction.

Madison wondered what in heaven she was going to talk about.

Nothing to do with heaven, I assure you.

Like all good PRs, 

Madison certainly is the best of the Public Relationses we've seen so far.

he was an expert in presentation and stagecraft, and up to now he had been struck with awe at how well the page school had trained her and how she must be working under the guidance of an expert palace staff with all the expertise that they must have.

What does any of this have to do with fetching coffee, carrying notes, or doing tedious paperwork?

A technical lecture after this?  Surely Teenie, now on her own, was going to blow it.  The foolish girl: good heavens, how she needed his help!  And, oh, how desperately he needed her assistance to finish his job with Heller!

Madison + underage slut = Heller is famous!

So there's our chapter cliffhanger - will Teenie successfully deliver her technical lecture, or will she blow it?  The answer is... uh, yes.


Back to Chapter Five 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Part Seventy-Two, Chapter Five - Teenie Gone Wilder

Hey, remember when Madison would start devising headlines out loud when he was talking shop with Gris?  The author suddenly does, and Madison mentally composes his own obituary while, as I said last time, continuing to stand and watch Teenie eat.  It's pretty short and disappointing.

That done, Madison decides to gamble that now that "the beast in her" (Teenie's stomach?) is fed, she'll be more receptive, and he tries to appeal to their shared humanity.  Teenie complains about Madison's behavior on the yacht in Book Seven.  So Madison stresses the importance of helping him finish the Heller job.  Teenie, and the reader, finds no (bleeps) to give.  So Madison talks about trying to get Hisst on the throne.  Teenie laughs at this, because from her connections with the palace pages, she knows how the Grand Council, drug-addicted and in Lombar's power as they are, still laugh at him for being a low-born "rat."  So Madison resorts to getting on his knees and begging her to help - he desperately needs her INFLUENCE after all, it's not like he knows any other powerful people on Voltar.  But she laughs, announces she has a class starting soon, snaps her fingers, and two twelve-year-old boys run into the hall.

I'd say we're descending into hell at this point, but I think we've been moving through one layer or another since Book Four.  Mostly circles two and seven.

Then suddenly he registered what she was doing.  He was horrified for more reasons than one.  Good Heavens, she was going to disgrace herself and not even be able to help him if she would.  She had gone insane!

She had signalled to the two boys before her and they were grinning in a knowing way and taking off their clothes!

"No, no!" cried Madison.  "Not here! This is a public audience hall!"

Madison's objections are not, of course, that Teenie's engaging in sexual relations with other preteens.  He's worried that she's ruining her public image before he can piggy-back on her INFLUENCE to make Heller famous.

Teenie kicks him out, or rather orders him to leave, but Madison ignores her and continues to watch and react.

Madison stared.  He was horrified.  "Teenie! What are you doing?  Don't make that boy into a queer!  Take that out of your mouth!"

Remember, in a world ruled by psychology, "queer" means "straight."

Teenie leaned back and looked in disdain at Madi­son.  "They're not being made into queers, idiot.  They'll be top-grade catamites when I'm done.  It's still early and I'm just playing around waiting for the audience.  You should see what happens then!"

You can learn a lot about gay sex from a woman, right?

Madison once again tries to convince her of the inappropriateness of engaging in sexual behavior in front of other people, especially the help.  Teenie replies that these people used to serve Queen Hora, so they're used to debauchery.  Also, they only get paid when royalty is occupying this palace, so they're quite happy to serve "Her Majesty" Teenie.  So a bunch of butlers and cooks and whatnot have been hanging out in an empty building, waiting for migratory bluebloods to move in and give them a salary.  Stupid, but par the course for Voltar.

The silver-clothed servants glower at Madison, some brandishing alien axes and offering to execute him right then and there.  Teenie actually considers it, because kids her age are kinda psychotic, but checks her watch and realizes she'll be late for her appointment.  So instead of kicking Madison out, which is what she tried to do earlier, or having him killed, when she was thinking about, Teenie whimsically orders her servants to tie him to a chair so they can prepare the hall for her big show.  It's not like he's been making a nuisance of himself and interrupting her or anything.

The chapter ends with Madison in shackles, spat on by one guard while another named Hammer is ordered to keep him safe - because by insulting their beloved Queen Teenie, other members of the staff are likely to try and cut Madison's throat.

I'm torn between lumping these chapters into single posts to try and get through them quickly, or taking my poison in small doses at a time.  Maybe the latter will help to build up a resistance?


Back to Chapter Four 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Part Seventy-Two, Chapter Four - Teenie Gone Wild

Madison and his driver backtrack to where they found Teenie, though it's getting harder to see.  "The light seemed bad: apparently in this place they followed day and night, and this must be dusk."  I'm just going to boggle at that sentence for a moment, at what other possible sequence day, night and dusk could proceed in.

A guard jumps out of hiding, but calms down when Madison flashes his Apparatus I.D.  He points them in the direction Teenie went, and immediately asks for a "puffstick."  Madison makes Flick give him one, Flick gives him a dirty look but complies, the guard makes Flick light it, and Flick gives him a dirty look but complies.  The author wrote these sentences, and now I relay them to you.  Maybe you'll know what to do with them.

Flick headed in that direction.  "This is getting worse and worse," he said.

Madison privately agreed with him.  If he found her, she would probably be covered with mud and this car, not overly clean already, would really ruin all his clothes then.  Anyway, she would be terribly happy to see him and know that, as his assistant, she would be free.

Those are two separate thoughts, crudely welded together with an "anyway."

Madison and Flick eventually "burst" into "an area of pools," a sequence of lighted bodies of water situated so that they feed each other through waterfalls.  Madison spots "TEENIE!" running along before diving into the colored pools and plunging her way down the waterfalls, despite the "NO SWIMMING" sign clearly prohibiting such an action!  Madison quickly gets Flick to drive the not-plane over, before Teenie gets in so much trouble, oh man!  This is the closest this chapter gets to an action scene, so try to play along.

Eventually Teenie sees them and climbs out of the water, and we get a paragraph describing the water cascading from her underage body, which to the author's credit is tempered by the fact that Madison's the viewpoint character, and he doesn't find her attractive.  So Teenie's leanness is mentioned but not slavered over, while her nakedness is informed rather than spelled out for us.

Madison excitedly shares the news that he's 1. found a way back to Earth, 2. has her as his assistant now, oh and 3. you're not a slave.  Teenie shrugs, grabs her dirty sackcloth, and without putting it on walks into an old vine-entangled golden building, through gilded doors "you could have flown a Boeing jetliner through."  What can I say, Hubbard and aircraft go together like extraterrestrial tyrants and psychiatrists. 

The interior is about as gaudy as you'd expect, with gold and jeweled chairs everywhere, and 3-D paintings of angels on the walls.  And if you thought Teenie swimming where there was clearly a "no swimming" sign was bad, well!  She gets water on silken pillows!  She uses a priceless silk tablecloth as a towel!  You can really see why parents don't want this sort of trash in schools, teaching kids delinquency. 

Madison continues to try and get Teenie to come with him, but she's mad, and I actually approve of why: Madison didn't volunteer his PR services when she was whoring out Too-Too's arse.  She never asked him to do it, and he had given her little reason to expect that he would, but she, a particularly stupid tweenaged girl, is furious that he didn't do what he didn't know she wanted.  Well done, Hubbard, you've accurately conveyed the annoying, self-centered stupidity of an emotionally stunted child.

"Oh, come off of it," said Madison.  "I couldn't get involved with a filthy business like that!  You were making that poor boy into a prostitute, ruining his life!  You even had him smoking pot.  You have no conscience!  No moral sense of any kind!"

Yeah, yeah, intentional values dissonance from the guy who "helps" people by getting them killed.

"You're a fine one to talk, sleeping with your mother!"

"That's just the way I was raised!"
"Well, this is just the way I was raised!" snapped Teenie.

And the conversation immediately goes to money, as Teenie assumes that's why Madison is after her.  She's stashed away a thousand spacebux, but Madison turns down her offer of a ten credit loan.  Madison refuses to touch money earned by sodomy.

Ten credits?  He didn't know what things cost but it wasn't enough to sell his pride for.  "I wouldn't touch money made out of the body of that poor boy!"

"That 'poor boy,' as you call him, happens to be a catamite that that (bleep) Gris set onto Lord Endow.  Lord Endow is the head of the Exterior Division and the top man over the Apparatus, when he can stop drooling long enough.  So I taught that 'poor boy,' as you call him, a few little tricks he could do and when he got back here he pleased Lord Endow no end.  The goofy old (bleepard) went absolutely delirious over Too-Too."

So Too-Too is now hero of the catamites, who are ever-so-jealous of his six week cruise, because of course all homosexuals are oversexed little deviants.  Too-Too was so grateful to Teenie, in fact, that he got Endow to send her for training as a page, which is why she can now speak court Voltarianin addition to the executive Voltarian that Madison's been speaking in.  On top of that, she's been "teaching" classes.  More on that in coming chapters, space gods help us all.

Madison brings up the "slave labor" she saw Teenie engaged in, but that was actually her planting some marijuana, which can be matured in a week thanks to space magic.  The publicist again begs her to leave before she gets in trouble, but Teenie reveals that she convinced Lord Endow that she was a "movie queen" on Earth, which is why she's been given the lavish former home of a Queen Hora (hur, hur).  To prove the point, she snaps her fingers, causing servants to appear and throw "a gauzy silken robe on her that left her twice as naked as before" and bring out some sparklewater and sweetbuns on a tray marked "Queen Teenie."  They, of course, kneel as they present the dishes.

It's convenient when the author establishes a powerful character as a doddering old moron, so the audience doesn't have to wonder why the hell he decided an alien prisoner who claimed to be big in movies should be promoted to royalty.  "Surely," you may be tempted to ask, "a society with mass media and big-name stars like Hightee Heller would know the difference between a 'real' queen and an entertainment icon?"  But as I said, doddering old moron.

Madison suddenly got the picture.

Teenie had INFLUENCE!

Hope boomed in him like a struck drum.  He could almost hear the trumpets blare.  Influence could be USED!

To make Jettero Heller famous!  And nothing else.

When the servants use eye contact to ask if Madison gets a sweetbun, Teenie brushes him off as no true friend of hers, and so the PR gets sad, "His hopes of finishing Heller fell crumbling about him."

This is one of those end-of-chapter pseudo-cliffhangers that Hubbard's fond of, and a particularly dumb example of one.  Madison doesn't actually leave.  Next chapter begins with him standing there, watching Teenie eat, still trying to think of a way to convince her to work with him.  And then things go to hell.


Back to Chapter Three 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Part Seventy-Two, Chapter Three - Madison Eventually Remembers His Promise

Madison is pretty down returning from his meeting with Hisst, having failed to get a paying job, cast out without even a home to go to.  But he's still got a driver!

Flick, his driver, said, "Things didn't go so well, eh?  At least thank several Gods you are alive."

Any in particular, or is the number what's important? 

Still, Madison's down but not out.  He asks who runs Homeview, hears an anecdote about Hightee Heller and her millions of fans that will surely be important later, and learns that Lord Snor right there in Palace City is the man to talk to.  Finding him ought to be tricky, given all the buildings and residences, but the only people and vehicles around are Apparatus soldiers and tanks.  The capital seems somewhat empty, in fact.  Flick explains that what with Apparatus grunts bothering people with searches and such, the population has dropped from two million to a few hundred thousand.  It's not quite a garbage dump yet, but give it time.

Eventually they arrive at a bright yellow building guarded by men in mustard yellow uniforms, the home and staff of Lord Snor.  The guards are a bit confused by Madison's ID: "What the blasts is a PR man?"

"A special envoy," said Madison promptly.  "I want to see Lord Snor."

"Well, you could be a special envoy from the thirteenth Hell," said the officer, "and it still wouldn't do you any good.  You might even get into his quarters and you still wouldn't make it.  He used to have a wife but she's gone home to her family. 

So... he still has a wife, she's just elsewhere right now.

He's got a son but he's in page school."

"What's all this family got to do with it?" said Madison.

Good question!

"Oh, that's the way things used to run around here.  If you couldn't see the top man, you saw some member of his family and slid your message in on that channel."

Lovely.  Strange men come by your house and, if you aren't home, decide to visit with your wife or children.  No secretaries, no answering machines, just paranoia and a strong incentive to sit on the porch with a shotgun.

The housecarl tries to set up Madison for an appointment, but learns from the chamberlain that Snor is only seeing doctors, doctors bringing him little packages of white stuff.  Dope, ya ken.  So the master of public relations is shown off the property.

Gloom settled in on Madison. 

Again.

The day he began to transact business through clerks had not arrived. 

That was a horrible sentence.

And the top men?  In sudden revelation, this deserted city was explained.  

Wasn't it already explained?  People got tired of being frisked by Apparatus thugs.  Maybe it's more explained now.  People got tired of frisking and crackhead neighbors.

Any minute he expected to see an I. G. Barben truck.  Lombar Hisst had this place on dope!  Did this explain the chief's interest in Rockecenter?  Did Rockecenter have a connection to that Earth base in Turkey?  No, he doubted Rockecenter even knew about these people.  But they knew about Rockecenter.

Thrill as a character figures out what we've known since Book One!

Madison seldom cursed.  He felt a bit like cursing now. 

But still not enough to actually curse.

You could only deal with top men for the things he had in mind, and with insight he knew that from the Emperor on down, here at Palace City, he would be running into hopheads.  Suddenly he understood a bit more about Lombar Hisst: the (bleeped) fool must be on amphetamines himself!  A speeder!  The signs of persecution were there, delusion was obvious.  It wasn't to the point of feeling bugs under the skin or aging or losing one's teeth, but it would get there.  And he probably had been crazy to begin with.

So he was probably already crazy, but you know he's on the drugs even though he's not displaying physical symptoms of drug use, because he's acting crazy?

A chill hit Madison.  He had better get his job done on Heller somehow, some way, and get out of this place before Hisst reached raving paranoia and started to kill everyone in sight!

And here we are again, Madison thinking logically, drawing conclusions, realizing he's in danger, having his self-preservation kick in - and then he goes back to that damned Heller job!  

Flick and Madison argue over housing - neither wants to sleep in the car, Flick's not willing to break into one of the empty houses in Palace City for fear of getting sent to Camp Kill, but Madison doesn't have a gun so they can't rob a store in Slum City either.  Flick's actually in danger of starving to death because he's supposed to get paid by his boss, but nobody's given Madison any... how does this organization function?

Anyway, Flick asks if there's anything at all Madison can accomplish, and the publicist remembers that vow he made chapter before last.

It jarred Madison.  Yes, there was something he could do.  He could be a knight-errant.  He could rescue Teenie; that had been allowed.  He would do it even though the thought of sleeping three in an aircar presented new problems.

He mentally donned his plumed helmet.  "Drive back to that park in front of the Royal Palace.  I've got to rescue a girl."

Yes, it was a vow so important that he saved it for second.


Back to Chapter Two

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Part Seventy-Two, Chapter Two - Meet the New Boss...

Right, let's get to this great meeting of destiny and all that crap.

On every hand the pomp of millennia rose: the golden ropes curved in intricate patterns along jewelled friezes depicting parades and battles down the ages; the glowering eyes of long-dead monarchs frowned at Madi­son as he went along the curving hall.  The consciousness reached him

I think this is a clear case of thesaurus fail.

that he was dealing with power ensconced in the awesome traditions of history far longer than man, on Earth, had even known how to use an axe of stone.

And look at how little they've accomplished!  Still monarchical, still place great importance on feudal titles and noble blood, and pursuing an empire solely because a piece of paper tells them to.  Take away their magical space science and they're about as socially sophisticated as the old British and French colonial empires in the early 19th - wait, no, those two were actually democratic and responsive.  Plus the French got rid of their king.

Right, Voltar's like the old French colonial empire, if Clovis I had left behind a note saying "don't go ten years without conquering someone."  And the French had lasers.

Madison comes to a huge fancy antechamber, now set up like an office with a desk in the way of the door.

At the desk sat a huge man, rather swarthy, an odd sheen on his skin.  He was dressed in a scarlet uniform, corded round with gold.  His eyes had a crazy light.

LOMBAR HISST!

Wonder how Madison knows this?  Hisst could be in the room behind, and this could be his secretary.

Hisst immediately asks if Rockecenter's doing okay, Madison says that as far as he knows, yeah, and when asked for more decides to gamble that the Apparatus is a bit out of touch with Earth; which is to say he lies.  So Madison talks about how he would push around presidents and prime ministers on Rockecenter's behalf, earning hundreds of millions of dollars for his vital services.  He's Rockecenter's "top PR man," you see.

Hisst frowned.  This is what the investigators had run into and hadn't solved.  "What is this thing you call PR?"

"Well," said Madison, "I noticed, talking around, you don't have a very good image."

Hisst looked angry.  "Nothing wrong with my image!  I'm six foot three inches tall.  I weigh 271 pounds----"

"No, no," said Madison.  "The way people think of you. The image of you other people carry in their minds."

See, in all of its history Voltar hasn't discovered the importance of public opinion.  Also, despite trying to learn all he can about Earth so that he can use the same techniques to rule Voltar, Lombar never solved the mystery of PR, which was arguably more important than drugs in Rockecenter's scheme or world domination.

Madison explains that having a good public image can prevent the riffraff from rising up and hitting you with sticks, which paranoid old Lombar is quite worried about.  Then Madison talks about how he was Rockecenter's greatest confidante, how the ruler of Earth would put his socks up on the desk and chat with him over scotch and soda.  And there's a bit here I actually like, Madison using the bizarre "open our coats" idiom he heard from Flick to try and get Lombar to confide in him.

Lombar's eyes got a bit crazy.  The sheen on his face was more pronounced.  He leaned forward and spoke in a whisper.  "It isn't that I want it so much.  It's that I have an order about it.  In spite of my being a commoner and the fact that all the Lords hate me, I am destined to become Emperor."

Madison was instantly alert.  Ah, he could deal with this.  He had heard of it before about Rockecenter.  "A call from...?"  He left it hanging in the air.

Lombar whispered, "The angels."

Mad knew he had it made. 

I doubt he calls himself "Mad," though.  Why, that'd be like admitting he's crazy or something, and we all know that psychiatry set him right by making him sleep with his mother.

So Madison explains that those angels called Rockecenter to do the same thing to Earth, yep, he even heard them.  And then he introduces Lombar to the idea of becoming Emperor by acclamation, using the dark powers of PR to make the masses love him.

This is really a different side to Madison than what we've seen, isn't it?  We've seen him often convinced that he was going to be killed for his failure, fleeing or moping appropriately.  And the biggest part of his previous depiction was that he was completely deluded, convinced that he's doing his clients a favor by fabricating crimes to get them in jail, or trying to spark a thermonuclear war over their antics.  But now he's become clever, manipulative, deceitful.  Must be a side-effect of the hypno-helmet, overwriting his old characterization.

Madison asks if there's any other problems his PR mastery could solve, and Lombar of course doesn't mention the whole thing with the emperor and the royal jewels, but growls about Gris being out of reach for his just execution, making Madison remark that the man kept getting in the way of his work back on Earth, in order to suck up to Lombar.

"Well," said Madison, "that's a PR problem, too.  There are ways.  Any other problem?"

"Heller!  That (bleeped) Royal officer!"

Madison felt like somebody was giving him candy on a silver platter.  The whole room went brighter.  But he said calmly, "On Earth he went by the name of Wister."

Lombar, who had never bothered to listen to anyone before, seized upon the information like a starved hound!  THAT was the missing piece of the puzzle of why his strategy had failed.  "Aha!" he cried.  "Gris didn't carry out my idea with the birth certificate!  It went wrong because that (bleeped) Gris didn't follow my plans for Heller!"

Was nobody on Earth sending back regular reports?  Bloody Dagger aka Captain Stabb was supposed to be keeping an eye on Gris, but did he not have to let his boss know how badly Gris was doing?  And why didn't Gris have to make periodic mission reports? 

Madison's hopes soared to seventh heaven.  Oh, what a chance was opening up in front of him!  He could finish the job he had been hired to do! 

WHY?!

He could go home to plaudits and glory!

What makes you think the aliens who abducted you are going to let you go home?

But he made himself look very calm.  "Well, Wister-Heller is a PR problem, too.  If you really want these things handled, just give me the account and let me get to work.  Just give me an office and a budget"

Lombar cut in.  "Not so fast, Madison.  Things are pretty delicate around here.  I don't know a thing about PR."

So Madison educates him.  There's a TV handy, playing a convenient newscast about Apparatus troops fighting Prince Mortiiy on Calabar.  Madison explains that the reporter needs to be talking about Apparatus troops fighting to make the Empire (not Confederacy?) safe, with images of Lombar leading them spliced in even though he wasn't on the planet.  If the media won't cooperate, make them play such messages.  And after enough of seeing Lombar acting like an emperor, the riffraff, and even the Lords, will start assuming he is emperor, common status or not.

Lombar shook his head.  "Madison, those Lords would never bow."

Madison continued to appear calm.  He wasn't.  He was playing for very high stakes.  He would get another chance at Wister.  If he succeeded, Bury would have to admit he had done his job.  If he worked Hisst properly, he could be sent home.  He would be on top again!

This is really kind of remarkable.  Madison is manipulative enough to play on Lombar's emotions and insecurities, trying to get hired as his personal PR manager.  He could use that position, of #2 to the man who runs a 110-world empire, to have access to more wealth and power than all of Earth combined, and be set for life.  But instead, Madison wants to go back to Earth and convince Mr. Bury that "yeah, I got swept up in a galactic plot, traveled to another planet, and found out that the target was in fact an extraterrestrial spy, but I handled that Wister job, boss!  He's huge on Voltar!"

So Madison proposes that if he can get pictures of Lords bowing to Lombar on Homeview, he'll deserve a PR position and an unlimited salary.  Lombar laughs and refuses to pay him anything, though he does agree that Miss Teenie Whopper can become Madison's assistant, and he will hire the guy if he achieves that PR coup - again, without any money.  And the guards come to throw Madison out.

As it stood, right at that moment, dear reader, Madison's apparent failure with Lombar left Jettero Hel­ler fairly safe;

Jettero Heller can drown in a toilet for all I care, dear writer.

the empty chamber back of Lombar would sooner or later get exposed and the histories of Voltar and Earth might have righted themselves.

'cause you'd think at some point a palace janitor would try to clean it.

Madison's chances of getting much further now looked thoroughly zilch.  But only at that moment, dear reader, only at that moment.  Huge and diabolical forces, already at work on two empires, were about to get a hefty push!

Well, one empire right now, Heller's busy saving the Earth and all that rot.

So the Apparatus flies Madison and Teenie from Earth to Voltar.  They hypno-train them in the language.  They make Madison an ID.  They give him a personal car and driver.  They take him to see the boss.  And they don't pay him, or give him an apartment, or anything but that driver and a rude dismissal.  After he's talked with the head of the organization and learned of his delusion, his scheme to seize power.

I guess I'm not fit for a job in the intelligence community.


Back to Chapter One 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Part Seventy-Two, Chapter One - Like Gas, But In Space!

Madison follows Capt. Slash (any relation to the late Capt. Stabb?) out of his cell and into an Apparatus compound.  You can tell who owns it because there's trash and papers blowing around - if it'd been a Fleet facility, everything would of course be spotless.  And shaped like a spaceship.

A clerk hands him his (empty) wallet and a brand spanking new identoplate with his name on it, and if you press a button it displays his picture and fingerprints.  So a lot like our primitive Earth I.D.'s, just a bit more inconvenient to use.  It also displays Madison's pay grade as a new "P.R. Man" of the Apparatus, i.e. none.  And I'm a little confused now.  We saw the Apparatus haul in Gunsalmo Silva for interrogation and spit him out as a brainwashed assassin.  Presumably they weren't offering him a salary during any of this.  So why's Madison being treated differently?  Why hasn't he been brainwashed into a loyal servant of the Apparatus?  Why are they registering him as an Apparatus employee before Lombar decides whether Madison is of any use?  And why do they need to make him an employee if all Lombar needs is information?

Madison is led to a "squat thing" with front and side windows, just no wheels, but it "could only be a car, for it had a front seat and a back seat."  He's introduced to his driver Flick, who has a face "like a squashed oval," and despite his uniform "might be a chauffeur but he looked more like a bandit, and a very scruffy bandit at that."  Certainly not a well-dressed, upper-class bandit, this is the Apparatus after all.

Also, does every Apparatus employee get an assigned driver?  Gris had one and he's a miserable failure.  Madison just "joined" and here he is with his own flying limo.

With his portable typewriter and other luggage loaded up, Madison boards the could-only-be-a-car, and is immediately surprised and baffled when it takes flight without any wings.  So did the spaceship that looked like an ordinary freighter with a wrap-around hull have wings, then?  From "what must be" ten thousand feet up, Madison can look down on a city "about the size of three New Yorks," and from Flick learns that it has an actual name(!) - Ardaucus - but everyone calls it Slum City.  And it only took us nine books to learn one of the proper names for these settlements.

While flying over the desert between Ardaucus and their destination, Madison takes him mind off of worries that the dust storms are "live beings of some alien race that dined on airplanes that had no wings" by asking his driver about who he's meeting.  Flick is only too happy to dump a paragraph of exposition on him.

Flick glanced back at him and then looked at the card he had been handed.  "Apparently you're an Earth-man, whatever that is.  And we're in the air so we can't be overheard.  The chief's name is Lombar Hisst.  Today he controls the Confederacy, all 110 planets of it.  Confidentially, he's an egotistical (bleepard).  Crazy as a gyro with a nick in the rim.  You better watch your step if you're really going to see him.  He bites off the arms and legs of babies just for kicks."

The scary part is that, after all the things that've happened in these books, there's no way of knowing whether or not this is hyperbole.

"Thank you," said Madison.  But he thought to him­self, sounds just like Rockecenter: bad image with the help and everything.

Guy eats babies?  Must be misunderstood.

While they're in the desert, Flick points out the castle of Spiteos, the sprawling but still secret Camp Kill, and the canyon they toss you in if you've been naughty.  He also belatedly asks Madison what his crime was.

"I haven't committed any crimes!" said Madison.

"Oh, space gas!" said Flick. 

 Aw, Space Christ...

"If I'm going to have to drive for you, we might as well open our coats.  I was one of the best thieves on Calabar until I got caught and sentenced to death and the Apparatus grabbed me.  And here I been ever since."

"Driving cars.  Yep, master of stealth and snatching things, and these idiots have me driving around other idiots.  Hear some other guy, nabbed for illegal street racing?  Best driver of our age, now working in the Apparatus cafeteria.  I honestly have no idea how we accomplish anything."

Madison's evasive about his own crime, admitting at most that he failed to complete a mission - "And then he knew for sure that this strange planet was rattling him: he had told somebody the truth.  He better watch it!"  And this is strange, because Madison has been pretty straightforward in his dealings with other people, and was honest enough to tell Gris about his, um, family life.  Madison elaborates when he's working, in order to make people famous, but he doesn't otherwise make a point of lying to everyone.  But I guess since he's a PR he has to lie all the time, right?  Starting now.

They eventually arrive at their destination, and Madison freaks out upon seeing "NOTHING!" but some green mist beneath them, and then they're through the space-time (bleepery) and in Palace City, full of jewel-encrusted round buildings and painted statues and gardens.  It's a wonder that Lombar's influence hasn't filled the place with garbage.

SUDDENLY HE SAW TEENIE!

She was in a sackcloth dress, filthy with mud from head to foot.  Her ponytail was undone.

Oh, he knew she'd come a cropper.  Here she was a slave.  Two old gnarled men were beside her, also grubbing away.  An Apparatus guard with what must be a rifle was standing by.

She had an implement in her hand.  Madison's car was skidding along five feet off the ground and it went close by her.  She was just standing up, placing her muddy palm against her obviously aching back.  SHE SAW HIM!

Then he was by her.  Oh, she must have done some­thing awful, to assign her to filthy manual labor.  The knight-errant rose in him.  "Never mind, Teenie," he whispered, "I'll rescue you if I can."

No, they didn't bring someone twenty-three light-years just to be a menial laborer, the truth's a bit more stupid.

When Madison and Flick finally stop in front of the most important-looking building, a guard rants about the "seven devils" and frog-marches Madison up the stairs to meet the chief.  Again, we're in Book Nine, and instead of elaborating on these devils or hells or whatnot, the most the author can come up with are numbers to slap in front of them.

The fatal moment had arrived.  J. Walter Madison was about to meet Lombar Hisst.

When two cretins of this caliber collide, the results can only be a singularity of searing stupidity.

I have dwelt upon it at length, for it was a moment which would mean much to Voltar's history and Jettero Heller.  And, dear reader, I assure you, not for the good of either!

But I don't care about either.  I'm actually quite antipathetic towards who and what's being threatened by these villains.  The only character I like in any of these books is the Apparatus computer system, and I'm willing to sacrifice it if its death would take out the rest of the cast.


Back to Part Seventy-One, Chapter Six

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Part Seventy-One, Chapter Six - How Madison Spent His Alien Abduction

Having been briefed on the state of Voltar, now we need to get caught up on what happened to some of our least favorite humans since the end of Voyage of Vengeance.

We start the chapter with Madison in a stainless steel holding cell, reflecting on how he got there.

Every preconception he might have had about space travel and extraterrestrials had been shattered. 

In truth, it's all kinda boring.

He had boarded a flying saucer that didn't look like a saucer but simply like an old Earth freighter whose hull went all the way around it.  

Maybe call it a freighter with no top deck, then?

The crew looked like Earth people with a subtle difference that this lot was shabbier than any crew he had ever seen or heard of. 

Means they're evil, see.

They talked a language which seemed composed of vowels and consonants completely alien to any Earth alphabet, but their gestures, pointings and nods were understandable.

Strange how body language, like the blessed human form, is another universal constant, but not the sounds that come out of mouth-holes.

Madison only realized he was on a spaceship when he looked out the window - of course his room had a window - and saw Earth fall away.  And then, while he was still strapped in his space bed, Teenie walked in, completely nonplussed about leaving Earth but ranting about Gris being an alien.

"I always knew there was something nutty about him.  His (bleep) and (bleeps) were a lot too big for any human, and I'm an expert.  We been shanghaied!"  She had been pretty mad and had stamped out.

So yes, it wasn't Gris' odd behavior, strange devices, or general stupidity that nearly gave him away as someone not of this world, it was his cellologically-enhanced dongle.  

Madison spends - spent - the first three days in his cabin, pining for his mother, wondering if he'd ever be able to engage in psychologically-prescribed incest again, and ignoring Captain Bolz' attempts to strike up a conversation with the help of a Turkish-English dictionary.  But eventually Bolz asked if Madison had any way of controlling Teenie, who Madison discovered had been getting fellow passenger Twolah high on marijuana and whoring out the boy for five credits a tumble so she and Madison would have plenty of money where they're going.  Madison warned her that Bolz was getting mad, but Teenie replied that she'd already put the fear of a mutiny in him by throwing a dagger into his room at night.  Luckily it doesn't come to that, as she eventually got on Bolz' good side.  With her mouth.

Teenie's just getting started, folks! 

All in all, Madison spent the rest of the voyage hiding in his room, "the vision of being on a spaceship out of control turning into nightmares in his dreams."  You can tell he's going mad if he spat out a sentence like that.

Which brings us up to now, Madison in a stainless steel cell.  He's just come out of some sort of coma where they stuck a helmet on his head for a few days when a man knocks on the door and announces that "the chief" wants to see him.  Madison has the usual barrage of questions, and is told by "Captain Slash of the 43rd Death Battalion, Apparatus" that he's at "the Training Center of the Extra-Voltarian Personnel Induction Unit, Coordinated Information Apparatus" on good ol' planet Voltar.

It's only after again being ordered to get his luggage together that Madison realizes, "HE HAD BEEN SPEAKING VOLTARIAN!"  He spends a whole sentence wondering at that before noticing something the guard dropped off: "A NEWSPAPER!"  Wow!  Incredible!  This civilized people with an advanced society possess a form of media to aid the flow of information!  Who would've thought?

So he skims The Daily Speaker to read a rather dry article about that darned Prince Mortiiy continuing to thwart the Apparatus on Calabar, though at least the pictures are in 3D.  And then he reads another article, essentially a Fleet press release about the mysterious whereabouts of Jettero Heller and rumors of some sort of general warrant for his arrest that they aren't paying much attention to.  And it happens to have a picture of the man in question.

There could be no mistake!

The photo was too lifelike!

Almost no men--and nobody he had seen amongst Voltarians--were as handsome as that! Nobody else he knew had ever worn such a devil-may-care expression.

IT WAS WISTER!

It's amazing that this book puts such stock in physical appearances when the Countess Krak is walking around as a magnificent example of beauty being skin deep.

Cap'n Slash again orders Madison to get his ass in motion, but the publicist is scarcely paying attention.

Rushing now to get dressed, Madison was in a daze.  Maybe he hadn't failed on Wister.  A general warrant?  Of course, that wasn't good enough.  It was even being denied.  And then a thrill went through him.  Maybe God was giving him another chance!  He must hurry over to see this powerful and frantic chief.

Yep.  Captured by an alien race, took a voyage on a spaceship, suddenly knows a new language, walking about on another world, and Madison's still trying to make "Wister" famous.  He's a pearl diver looking for clams in a desert.  A refrigerator repairman in Antarctica.  Some sort of mindless robot repeating the same actions indefinitely, utterly oblivious to its surroundings.  He can't have a rational, human reaction to his circumstances, because that would be incompatible with the story's plot.

And he didn't notice the part about Heller already being famous on Voltar.


Back to Part Seventy-One, Chapter Five 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Part Seventy-One, Chapter Five - Lombar Needs to Get His Hands on the Royal Family Jewels

Chapter Five opens with Lombar Hisst talking to himself in the royal antechamber back on Voltar.  Now, you might think it odd that we're switching to a new plotline right in the middle of Part Seventy-One rather than kicking off Part Seventy-Two with a fresh face and location.  You may even be wondering why Rockecenter's defeat wasn't included in the previous book, which could then end on the cliffhanger of Lombar getting his evil in gear on Voltar instead of the cliffhanger of whether Heller could overpower an insane octogenarian.  All I can say is that the way these books are divided into Parts and chapters, while confusing and vaguely annoying, is the least of their problems.

For maximum irony points, Lombar is telling himself that "If he has also harmed Rockecenter, I will tear the universe apart to find and kill him!"  He's gripping that Royal officer's ceremonial rod that Heller decided to bring along and leave behind when he raided the palace, a Royal rod that of course has Heller's signature on it. 

This chapter is about seven or eight pages of pure exposition, bringing us up to date on the state of the Confederacy and Hisst's plot to seize control of it - namely that it isn't going well.

His problem was acute: he could not announce, as he had planned to do, that the monarch was dead and had left no one to occupy the throne.  This would have opened the door to the ascension to the crown of Lombar Hisst, a simple palace coup. Such a thing had never happened in Voltar realms before---that a commoner would ascend to the Crown---but it had happened plenty of times on Earth and that was Lombar's model.

Not that often, I think.  We've had cases where peasant Kings gained their thrones after being adopted into the succession, or commoner Queens gained power through marriage, but in the societies that put a lot of stock in their king's, well, stock, they tend to be leery when some nobody starts prancing around with a crown.

Lombar can't produce a substitute body, either, Royal law is that a hundred doctors and a hundred Lords (who I guess know a bunch about medicine too) have to examine any remains and verify its cause of death.  More than that, there's no way he can counterfeit the Royal regalia.

The sacred object was too ancient for any records ever to have been kept.  He did not even have a drawing of it.

It's ancient, and ever-present in Voltarian history, and nobody's drawn a picture of it? 

The chains contained gems which were well known and any substitutes were impossible to acquire without alerting every jeweler in the realm; the seal was formed from a ten-pound diamond, the rarest ever found, and it had been carved with methods long since extinct.

These guys can synthesize gold like it's nothing, but gemstones, no can do!

The thought of publicly stamping something and then having someone say "That's not the seal of State!" made his blood chill, for with the proof of forgery went the right of any assembly of nobles to kill him on the spot.

One: if you're this far along in your plot to seize control of the Confederacy, you really shouldn't be freaking out at the risk of discovery and death.  Two: if nobody's seen these jewels well enough to draw a picture, how would they know if you counterfeited them?  Three: if you have paperwork with the state seal stamped on them, can't you reverse-engineer a forgery from that?  Four: why do you need to be king?  Could you rule as a permanent regent, or be bold enough to declare that you're merely a dictator?

All this to say, Hisst needs to find Heller and get those jewels back.  Problem is, the non-Apparatus agencies of the Confederacy aren't cooperating - the Army refuses to get involved in a Fleet matter, the Fleet doesn't want to obey the "drunks"' commands and insists that it has no records of Heller's tug returning to and departing Voltar in the first place, and of course Lombar can't issue a Royal order for Heller's arrest without the seal of State.  Call me a heretic, but this almost sounds as cumbersome and dysfunctional as those riffraff-run regimes on Earth.

Worse still, the Blixo just completed a scheduled shipment from Earth, and while the manifests say it brought the usual supply of amphetamines, they "WERE NOT IN THE CARGO!"  And you can't expect him to control the ruling elite of an empire through heroin and opium alone, can you?  Oh, if only Lombar had some sort of secret facility containing the sort of medical and pharmaceutical equipment needed to manufacture his own supply of drugs...

Things had been going so well: he had every Lord of any consequence addicted.  His Majesty had been within a few weeks of dying.  All Lombar had left to do was spread drugs wider, through physicians, amongst just a few more areas of the government, and he could obey the angels and become Lombar the Mighty, Emperor of all Voltar.

Still don't know why he couldn't do this with hypno-helmets.

He had had it all planned so well!  He had fantasized on how he would, on the final day, handle Cling the Lofty.  He would let withdrawal symptoms get painfully acute and then, in return for a fix, he would have His Majesty sign and seal a proclamation declaring Lom­bar Hisst his heir.  Many times before he had worked the trick on Cling and had obtained various orders such as those removing the Palace Guard and supplanting it with the Apparatus.  So it would have worked. 

And he didn't do it at any point before this because...?

But there would have been one difference with that final fix: instead of heroin in his veins, His Majesty would have received a syringe full of air.  The monarch would have died, the cause of death, "old age."  Lombar would have displayed the body and that would have been that.

And none of those two hundred physicians (and useless Lords) would have noticed the signs of an air embolism.  If they're this gullible, why not fake a corpse?  Get Crobe to clone one or some garbage.

Lombar proceeds to rant about how Heller must have fouled everything up, again reminding us that it was his brilliant idea to give Heller the "Rockecenter Jr." identity in the first place as a sure-fire way to get him killed, as opposed to shooting him in the head during the spaceship flight to Earth and dumping his corpse out the airlock.  He also mutters "(bleep) Gris!" for allowing Heller to screw everything up, again reminding us that of all the horrific stuff in these books, the only thing that upsets our robot censor is language more spicy than "hell."

On the subject of Gris, he's out of reach in the Royal prison until Lombar gets that special stamp, so he won't be reappearing for a while.  Finally, we're reminded that Hisst sent a Death Battalion to Earth, to destroy the source of his drug supply once and for all!  Wait.

"It suddenly occurred" to Lombar that if he wants more information about what happened on Earth, maybe he could ask someone who's been there recently.  An aide mentions Two-lah the catamine, but he's too gay.  There's also Dr. Crobe, but he's too insane.  But there's also two humans: a useless little girl, and a man that the paperwork at least speaks highly of.

"They still don't know why he is so invaluable.  The only designation they could find in his papers termed him a PR man."

"A what?" said Lombar. "Is that some kind of an Earth race?  Like Negroes?"

"No.  He's white with brown hair.  

Weird that even on another planet, "white" is the default, and therefore the best, of all races.

Oh, here's the rest of it.  From cards in his wallet, it said he was employed by 'F.F.B.O.' and was retained to do Rockecenter work."

"Part of the Rockecenter organization!" cried Lom­bar.  "Quick!  Get that Earthman over here FAST!"

NOW things could begin moving!

Yep, exposition's all taken care of, we're up to speed on what happened in the half-book since we left Voltar, and the plot's ready to proceed, centered around our new main character: J. Walter Madison, the man with an outlaw fetish who thinks WWIII would be a great publicity stunt.

Nothing to look forward to but 200 pages of "PR" and how to make Heller famous. 


Back to Chapter Four

Friday, October 18, 2013

Part Seventy-One, Chapter Four - Shall Not Be Mourned

It takes two hours for Heller and Bang-Bang to get back to the mansion with Rockecenter's waterlogged corpse.  Presumably they drove with the windows down.

The National Guard major general running the place is rightfully horrified to see Heller walk in with a soggy body in his arms, especially after Bang-Bang tells him "See what your delay caused!  Maysabongo saboteurs blew up the tank and the road.  You cost Rockecenter his life!"

There's no need to send anyone anywhere, though, the saboteurs are all dead.  And since the general would get court-martialed for failing to protect the most important individual on the planet, everyone agrees "We won't say anything if you don't."  And I guess that's that!  No need to write up a report, verify orders, investigate the scene of the attack, or anything like that.  Take these two guys on their word and get on with your lives.   He was just the wealthiest, most powerful man on Earth, after all.

Heller's nice enough to tell the guards to go fetch Twoey and Izzy, then gets to cracking the combination of Rockecenter's briefcase by ear.  All the important paperwork is safe, but who should say "I think that you will need me" but Bury!  He's all bandaged around his head but otherwise functional, and hoping that Heller will consider his services.  See, Bury's given up on trying to oppose Heller, because "Anybody who can live through J. Walter Madison is unkillable!"

"So you're the one who put him on to me!" said Heller.

"Worse than that," said Bury.  "I'm the one that relayed Rockecenter's orders to kill you when you were born."

"You criminal!" said Heller.

No mention of that attempt to snipe Heller back in Book Two or anything.  It just can't compare to the horror of having someone write about you in the newspaper.

"Well, let me put it this way, Junior.  I am a Wall Street lawyer.  The client is dead: Long live the heirs."

"You don't keep your word!" said Heller.

I mean, trying to kill me is one thing, but lying?

"A Wall Street lawyer only keeps his word to his client, Junior.  That's the legal profession.  But you need me.  You need my firm.  The lines are intricate.  For instance, I can handle Faustino."

Heller said, "He's probably just now passing through Hell Nine unless they let him live."

Nessus?

"Ah," said Bury, "then who is the capo di tutti capi?"

Heller said, "Babe Corleone."

"Well, it will sure raise hell with I. G. Barben Phar­maceutical.  Mrs. Corleone is death on drugs.  But we can convert the firm to something legitimate.  Long live Babe Corleone!

Is Hubbard under the impression that because aspirin's a drug, and opium is a drug, a pharmaceutical company will produce both?

Now, on this client thing, what do you say, Junior?"

"I could kick your bloody head in!" said Heller.

Bury felt his skull. "You already did."

They suddenly both broke out laughing, Bury with his "Heh, heh, heh!"

Technically it was a pistol-whipping.  But hooray, they're friends now!

Twoey and Izzy walk in, with absolutely nothing to say about being held prisoner for a couple of hours after being betrayed by their friend, and Heller explains how he's hiring the firm of Swindle and Crouch.  No worries that Heller's taking up the mantle of his "father," surrounding himself with the same poisonous influences, or may have played Twoey and Izzy like chumps to get this far.  They're trusting friends, I guess.

Bury's only conditions are that he be allowed "free rein" with Miss Agnes/Dr. Morelay the psychiatrist and Miss Peace the secretary, to take them to the zoo's snake house and such (the book's Key reminds us that Bury's favorite pastime is feeding white mice to snakes).  Heller sees no problem with this, and so the lawyer gets to work: sign this, throw away this, get two soldiers to come in and serve as witnesses for the will, and done.  Heller keeps his patents, has control of all those oil companies, gains control of the world's banking system, etc.

Of course there's still that whole war thing, so we get a full page of one side of Bury's conversation with Mr. President, giving the news that Rockecenter had a tragic swimming pool accident, so he can go on and cancel that mobilization and tell Congress not to declare war - because that's how it works, right, Congress does whatever the President tells it?  Then Bury gets in touch with the IRS to waive the Rockecenter inheritance tax.

The others are on phones, too.  Heller calls Miss Simmons and tells her to cancel her nuclear protests, since he has "a firm promise from the oil companies to decontaminate the plants."  Those bastard oil companies, losing millions by refusing to decontaminate their tainted merchandise!  Izzy calls stock people to make sure the deals on those oil companies go through.  And then there's nothing to do but get rid of a certain corpse.

A scared butler came in.  Bury pointed at the body on the couch.  He said, "Take that body to the local mortuary.  Tell them to file a death certificate and fix the corpse up.  It'll just be a family funeral.  Nobody will mourn anyway."  He turned to Heller.  "He didn't have a friend in all the world.  Not even me.  All he had was money."

Did Hubbard, as he spent his last years on the run, an international pariah forced to live in hiding within his home country, have a revelation?  Some regrets about spending his life in pursuit of the wrong treasures?

Or maybe he's sneering at Rockecenter here for having a fortune but no friends, while he had both money and worshipers! 

Heller looked down at the body.  It was staring fisheyed at the ceiling.  Delbert John Rockecenter, Senior, the man who had wrecked hundreds of millions of lives and had almost wrecked the planet, was very, very dead.  No, nobody would mourn.

Well, all those people on his payroll will probably be upset.  And of course the Worldwide Psychologist Conspiracy will be sad that their great puppet got his strings cut.  And in the center of the hollow Earth, some Nazi lizardmen are shaking their claws at the ceiling, cursing that their plan to destroy America once and for all by turning it gay has been thwarted.

But there you have it - Heller has won!  He's got more money than God, total control of a planet's energy and finances, and from that, de facto control of the planet itself.  Give him a castle and we could call it a day, though given his luxury spaceship that'd be superfluous.  Earth is now free of Rockecenter's domination, ready to fall under Voltarian domination!

But we've got another planet in the story, don't we?  An unresolved plotline involving a usurper of an alien empire.  And so we leave the victorious Heller for the next 283 pages so we can see what's happening back on Voltar, in a plotline involving all our favorites: the insane Lombar, the twisted Dr. Crobe, the sexually precocious Teenie, the outlaw-obsessed Madison, and of course the wholly inept Gris.  All running around on Voltar, doing their best to remake it like Earth in the name of satire.

Yeah.

The rest of the book is going to suck


Back to Chapters Two and Three

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Part Seventy-One, Chapters Two and Three - You Will Believe a Tank Can Fly

Having bamboozled the bazooka-toting soldiers, Heller steps outside and orders a sergeant to give him a detailed map of Rockecenter's route, to make sure it's safe.  There's a bunch of Maysabongo partisans out and about, don'tcherknow.  Blew up a few buildings just last night.

Heller sketches a copy and gives it to Bang-Bang, along with some instructions that the book will hide from us for the sake of drama.  Bang-Bang takes a "despatch rider"'s motorcycle and nearly runs down a bunch of soldiers on the way out, because the Army-Marines rivalry is hilarious, while Heller takes the cab to go after Rockecenter.

He had expected to catch up with Rockecenter by the time they had reached the Tappan Zee Bridge.  But when he went through the tollgate, he could see no sign of the limousine or tank on the long span across the Hud­son.  He hoped Bang-Bang was riding fast enough.  Rockecenter was certainly revving it up.

Wait just a moment, this will make sense then.

A paragraph or two of driving along the scenery, noting that the roads are clear because all the gas is gone, then suddenly Heller comes upon "THE LIMOUSINE AND THE TANK!", conveniently pulled over to fix Rockecenter's limo's antenna.  Because otherwise they might have outrun Heller.

Heller has superhuman reflexes, but he's also doing eighty around a blind turn, and so rips right past his quarry.  He makes up for this by turning the move into a skid that ends with him out of sight and undercover, watching the road.

And now we get the important information that Rockecenter's escort is one of those obsolete, wheeled tanks used by the Army Reserve, able to speed along highways at a reasonable rate.  That would've been nice to know last chapter while we were wondering why it'd be difficult to catch up with the thing.

Heller watches the tank and limo go by, the tank's driver sitting in the open top hatch, "goggled and helmeted and holding a drawn .45."

That told Heller all he needed to know.  They had orders to shoot him.

Really?  The Army's decided that another Army vehicle is a threat to be destroyed?  Rockecenter's declared that anyone who passes his needs to die?  I'll tell you what didn't happen, Rockecenter didn't get in touch with the soldiers back at his mansion and learn that his "son" was on the way to help him, because when Heller returns in two chapters he isn't shot for his deception.

Heller waits as the tank and the limo continue along their route, musing about how vital it is that he get those patents back, 'cause otherwise Rockecenter would bury them and continue "the profitable pollution of this planet."  At least he's smarter than those Captain Planet villains who delighted in oil spills.

If Rockecenter succeeded in getting war declared, control of all the oil companies, which he had already, would come right back into his hands.  

We need to stop him from getting the thing he already has, right.

And so would the other things he already controlled, such as banking.  He still owned all the governments by way of international finance.  The only thing Heller would have effected would have been the removal of the threat of nuclear war, by destroying Russia. 

See, Heller killing Russia was a good deed!  

And maybe Rockecenter would build that up again somehow so he could sell arms once more.

Or - and bear with me here - instead of spending a lot of time and money rebuilding a bunch of comet debris so he could continue to sell America anti-Soviet nukes, Rockecenter could sell arms to other countries.  Let's see a new Cold War between America and Canada!  Nukes sitting nose-to-nose on either side of the border!  Bans on maple syrup and Canadian bacon!  Quebec trying to play the two sides against each other a la China!

Heller did not care what happened to Rockecenter himself now.  The man had committed the cardinal sin of breaking his word and, to a Fleet officer, that ended off any mercy that Rockecenter might expect if it came to a final showdown.  They had given him what was really a fair out: he had taken advantage of it like a thief, even to the point of stealing their wallets.

Rockecenter's thugs tried to kill Heller on at least three different occasions, he's cheated and swindled his way to dominate the planet, he even conspired to kill his own wife and unborn child, he has no taste in interior decorating, but when he breaks his word, that's when Heller decides he's past mercy.

I guess I was born on the wrong planet to understand Voltarian ethics.

Alright, reflection over.  Heller gets in gear and catches up with his prey, which spots him coming and once again somehow knows that he's an enemy.

The tank swerved out, let the limousine pass it and fell in behind the car.

Heller was hastily checking his speed.

He didn't check it fast enough.

A burst of machine-gun fire slashed the trees to his right!

Wait, the tank's machine guns are forward-facing and it's still following the car - it hasn't spun around because the turret still needs to traverse.  So how is it shooting backwards at Heller?

The tank turret was coming around.

Heller braked hard.

BLAM!

The tank shell hit the road in front of the cab and screamed over the top of it in a ricochet.

Heller slued the cab over into the left-hand lanes.

BLAM!

Another shell hit where the cab had just been!

And then the tank and limo disappear around another bend, and Heller follows.  As he drives he gazes out at the Hudson, admiring the clear skies and wondering whether the lack of cars or mass-produced "spores" are to credit for it.  It takes a certain measure of skill to defuse the tension in a car chase involving a tank, don't you think?

Heller speeds up to catch up again, comes up on the tank and limo again, dodges a pair of tank shells again.  But this time he spots a motorcycle parked on the side of the road, realizes the significance, and does a sicknasty 360 before putting the cab in reverse, to avoid...

BOOOOOOOOM!

All caps and italics.  Any louder and it would've been bolded, too.

Bright orange fire erupted from under the highway and bloomed hugely into the sky.

A hundred-yard strip of highway was going up into the air!

The tank was flung, as from a catapult, high out over the river!

As it hit the zenith of its flight, it suddenly exploded as a bomb of its own.  Its ammunition and gasoline ripped it into a balloon of fire.

...Why?

The concussion hit the cab and the tires screeched as it shot backwards.

Then Heller saw the limousine.

It was high in the air, turning over and over.

It spun slowly and plummeted down into the Hud­son, hundreds of feet below.

So ends Chapter Two, with the villain's limo sinking in a river after being nearly blown to smitheroons.

Heller dodges raining boulders of pavement as he drives up to Bang-Bang, who was supposed to blast out a simple barricade or something instead of taking out the whole damned road.  But before you chew out this former Marine and Corleone mafia bomb expert for a sudden lapse in judgment, know that Heller gave the guy Voltarian explosives "a million times as powerful as Earth dynamite" but failed to warn him about their potency, assuming that Bang-Bang would know how to use them to get the result Heller wanted.  Because that would be a Code Break, I guess.

Heller spots the limo bobbing the surface, already beginning to bubble and sink again, and starts stripping.  "You can't dive three hundred feet!" protests Bang-Bang, who has a good eye for vertical distances.  "You didn't see this," answers Heller as he pulls out a round cylinder with a dial on the end... the Mission Earth slash fiction just writes itself, doesn't it?

Heller took a run and leaped off the top of the cliff.  He went way out.

I mean waaaaay out, dude.

HE DIDN'T FALL!

Gaping, Bang-Bang saw him hanging by the cylinder in one hand.  He did not know it was an antigravity coil and he couldn't register what he was looking at.

It's called an Immovable Rod.  D&D players can find all sorts of wonderful uses for them - hold a door closed, make a floating sniping platform, stick it in a sleeping dragon's mouth...

With the thumb of his other hand, Heller gave the dial another twist.  He swooped down a hundred feet.  He thumbed the coil again and, using his body as a plane, dived in the direction of the bubbles still coming up from the sinking limousine.

Yet another miraculous item we can file under "why did it take him this long to get this out?"

The water is apparently "cold."  Heller goes diving and tries to get in the limo, and it's very exciting because he needs that thank-goodness-it's-waterproof briefcase right now and finding professional divers to loot the wreck would take too long.  To summarize two pages, Heller stabilizes the limo with the immovable rod, bringing its end above the surface, and jimmies a door open.  He shoves the driver's corpse out of the way, otherwise ignoring a person whose only crime was driving around Heller's enemy.  No pity, no remorse, no comment.  Then:

He found himself looking into the staring eyes of Rockecenter.  The body had followed him, impelled by the current of water.

Heller had an impulse to push it back.  Then he didn't.  He took it by the collar and hauled it out of the car.

Aaand that's the limit of his reaction to killing the most powerful man on the planet.  Maybe he'll think of something to say next chapter.

He only had two hands and he now had two objects, the case and the corpse.  And he had to recover that coil!  To leave it would be a Code break, for this car possibly would be recovered.

Bang-Bang doesn't count when it comes to state secrets?

Heller recovers the doodad and starts swimming back to Bang-Bang, Rockecenter's corpse and briefcase in hand.

Heller, as he paddled, glanced around at the deserted landscape.  These gasless days, they had the whole world to themselves.  Americans, in a culture built around the automobile, could only stay home.  Aside from a few birds, no witnesses.

Except for... uh oh, run for it Bang-Bang!


Back to Chapter One 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Part Seventy-One, Chapter One - Heller Calls a Friend

At least Monte's repetitive opening saves me the trouble of recapping the previous chapters.

Rockecenter tells Bury's not-quite-a-corpse-yet that "dead or not, your usefulness is ended," and leaves for Philadelphia.  And then we start alternating between actions in a very specific sequence so that Heller's bacon is saved without him having to lift a finger, much less use the magician's forcer gesture to make his captors grab a piece of cloth that makes soldiers release prisoners.

Rockecenter goes through the room's French doors and yells for his car and a tank escort.  The general makes a signal, and soldiers grab Izzy and Twoey.  The general has to make another signal because apparently Heller wasn't included in the original "Seize them!" order.  Outside, Rockecenter starts to get into his car but stops a moment to look at the road.  The soldiers start to grab Heller, who says

"Oh, he didn't mean me!" said Heller.  "I'm his son."

"What?" said the general.

"Yes, it's a fact," said Heller.  "He just meant these two fellows here."

Both Izzy and Twoey looked at Heller, stunned.

And the general tries to verify this, but Rockecenter's already in his car and driving away.  See?  Pretty fortunate for Heller that the National Guard drags its feet when it comes to apprehending "riffraff."  How lucky that Rockecenter didn't bother to stick around and ensure that the people trying to break his monopoly were properly detained.

The general's suspicious that Rockecenter was gesturing to Twoey and Izzy but not Heller, and asks Heller to prove that he's indeed Rocky Jr.  Of course, Rockecenter took everyone's IDs, the clever bastard, so Heller takes a shot in the dark, dredging up a long-forgotten plot point from Book Two.

"Ah," said Heller.  "You just grab the phone on that desk and ask for Emergency FBI, Washington, D. C.  You just ask for agents Stupewitz and Maulin."

Heller crossed his fingers.  Those agents were the first ones he had had contact with on his original arrival in the United States last fall.  He had never heard of them or from them since.

That's right, the agents who apprehended Heller and then inexplicably spent an afternoon teaching him about drugs and bypassing security systems and guns.  The agents who subsequently fell off the face of the Earth, never to be mentioned in the story or even listed in the books' Keys.  Those morons.

And of course they're around to pick up the phone, and oh so happy to speak to "JUNIOR!"  Heller brings up Mary Schmeck and how she never got her tombstone, then immediately goes on to explain that he's of age now, eligible for all sorts of inheritance money, and looking to balance any debts.  He offers them a six figure job if they'll quit working for the government, which they're all too happy to accept.

So are Maulin and Stupewitz good guys now?  The twerps who went out of their way to accommodate "Junior" in hopes that papa would reward them, and who Bury failed to subsequently terminate for knowing too much?  The guys who boasted how J. Edgar Hoover would invent crimes and then gun down his victims in a "blaze of glory?"  The guys who are damned for not only working for the government, but working for government law enforcement?

Guess we'll see when they show up in person.  Heller gives the phone back to the general, who finishes his conversation, turns pink and mumbles about being new at "these family matters." 

"All's fair in love and war," said Heller cryptically.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw that the limousine and tank were gone.  "Now, General, take that Bury there to your hospital tent and if he isn't dead, do a nice long operation.  Plenty of anesthetic because he's sensitive.  As for these other two, hold them very safe."

Izzy and Twoey looked at him with horror.

A little slow on the uptake, aren't they?  But if you're wondering whether they're going to hold a grudge over this seeming betrayal, don't worry, this will never be mentioned again.

"Now, as you know," continued Heller, "there's lots of Maysabongo saboteurs about.  So let me have a motorcycle so my driver can scout the road.  And if there's nothing else, I'll go out to my car and try to catch up with Daddy."

"Very good, Lieutenant Rockecenter," said the general and barked an order to an aide who was hovering at the door.

Shouldn't be hard, an Abrams can only do about 40 on an open road.  Tune in next time for an exciting car chase and vehicular battle!


Back to the start of Villainy Victorious

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

He DOES Exist!

Villainy Victorious has an unfortunate cover.

The big glowing (presumably Manco) Devil looks impressive at first glance, at least.  If you aren't familiar with the story you'd probably expect that the sharp-dressed dude enjoying a glass of fizzy next to his, uh, vehicle, is obviously backed by the incarnation of all evil, making him an unstoppable champion of darkness.  But if you've read the previous books, and guess that the bland fellow can only be Soltan Gris (editor's note from the future: I should've remembered that every character in these books is blandly described compared to Heller and Krak), then you'd know about his tendency to hallucinate and build elaborate fictional worlds to inhabit, which suddenly makes the title and cover art rather ironic.  It just goes to show how hard it is to look forward to Mission Earth if you've actually read any of it.

And the background?  Grody.  The artist was presumably going for some kind of sparkling, iridescent effect on the pillars and ceiling of Gris' (editor's note from the future: Madison's) devil-haunted garage, but the end result doesn't work well with the dark blues and purples of the material, and instead creates the impression that there's crap on the book itself.  I have to resist the urge to try and scrub nonexistent gunk off the thing every time I look at it.  It also makes the red text of "Mission Earth 9," already hard to make out against the dark colors, almost illegible.  Now I know why the last book's cover art decided to put Heller in a white tux against bright, fiery explosions instead of a black suit during a pitch-black night raid.

The back is topped with Orson Scott Card's comparison to Star Wars the last book went with.  If Star Wars was like Mission Earth the first movie would've ended after Vader said "I have you now!"  And we would've had Luke and Obi-Wan help Jabba the Hutt take over Mos Eisley so the Millennium Falcon could take off.  And the ride to Mos Eisley would've taken an hour in itself.

The book summary reveals that Lombar Hisst has the "dreaded Apparatus Death Battalion poised for a pre-emptive strike on Earth," which makes sense to the degree that Earth hasn't attacked Voltar yet, but only because nobody on the planet knows Voltar exists.  We're also told that Chief Lombar is "out of control" and "holds the fate of Earth and the entire Confederacy in his clenching hands," which would be more effective if I gave a flying (bleep) about the entire Confederacy, or indeed could name more than a half-dozen planets in it.  Anyway, it's up to Heller to beat "incredible odds" and save both Earth and the empire in "this intergalactic game of double jeopardy," which is a legal term that sounds dramatic but doesn't actually apply to this situation.  Unless Heller had previously been tried and acquitted for thwarting the Apparatus or something.

All the other blurbs on the back cover are recycled, but one or two past the front cover look new, or at least full versions of statements quoted in snippets earlier.  Orson Scott Card assures us this book is "simply the most fun you can have by yourself."  ...Nah, too easy.  Ray Faraday Nelson also explains why the CIA will hate this book, because Hubbard's "laughing at the Sacred Cow of the Eighties, the so-called intelligence community."  Now I was present for the last half of that decade, but too preoccupied with things like learning bladder control to really pay attention to world affairs.  From what I've pieced together, it looks like American intelligence services were busy doing things like Iran-Contra and mucking about in Latin America to keep dictators in power so those nasty communists didn't take over; not particularly Good Guy behavior that the public would approve of.  So it doesn't sound like a Sacred Cow situation to me, but maybe it was different when you were living in it.

Moving along.  The usual "here's the list of Mission Earth books, buy and read them first!" command.  Map of New York, dammit a map of Turkey, map of Voltar.  "Also by L. Ron Hubbard" list, Mission Earth title page, a second list of Mission Earth books, a second Mission Earth title page.

The Censor and Translator's notes are both pretty brief - Lord Invay again mentions how the book has a new narrator and reminds us that planet Earth does not exist, 54 Charlee Nine says that his job's easier now that Monte Pennwell has taken over... wait.   Charlee's happy that Monte speaks only Voltarian, but while Gris knows several Earth languages he was writing for a Voltarian.  So what, he didn't translate his own testimony?  Whatever, Charlee also updated the book's Key.  Gris' landlady no longer appears on it, while Krak and Heller's butler Balmor does, for example.

We kick off Part Seventy-One with Monte Pennwell's letter to Biographics Publishing Company, the most specific printing house in the galaxy.  He begins by assuring them that their names will, like his, be celebrated for all of history, then repeats his shock that a government would lie to its people about something like a planet's existence.  Apparently he's sent in all of his story up to this point to see how they like it before continuing, which means he churned out eight books' worth of awful before deciding to check whether or not he was wasting his time.  And before you ask, no this wouldn't have helped Hubbard, he had handlers who very carefully hid bad news, criticism and mocking laughter from him.

Monte recaps the major plot points: Earth was controlled by energy mogul Delbert John Rockecenter, Heller was sent to "de-pollute" the planet as part of mission intended to fail, given an identity as Rockecenter Jr. so he'd be an obvious target, but nevertheless survived and discovered the plot to take over the Confederacy with Earth-produced drugs.  There's stuff about Mr. Bury and Heller becoming a consul for the African fabrication called Maysabongo, but here's the thing - Soltan Gris isn't so much as mentioned.  The guy who was our narrator for seven and a half books, the guy's whose "confession" forms the bulk of Monte's text, is ultimately unimportant to the story!  And yet, assuming my guess about the cover isn't entirely misplaced (editor's note from the future: it was), Gris should be making a reappearance in the near future. (editor's note from the future: near-ish)

Monte wraps up by recapping the two chapters we just read, Heller and Izzy and Twoey's confrontation with Rockecenter, and because the guy doing the recapping is also the narrator who described the events for us the first time, it's a lot like reading those chapters over again.

With the smile of a snake, Rockecenter agreed and the documents were signed--then the snake struck!

Except it was Bury, not the "snake," who drew the gun.

When the brief scuffle was over, Rockecenter's attorney Bury lay unconscious on the floor and a weaponless Heller was surrounded by army troops.

Rockecenter scooped up the papers that now gave him complete control and put them into a huge steel suitcase.  He turned to a major general whose squad had its weapons turned on Heller and Izzy.

"General," said Rockecenter, "hold this riffraff until I return.  Then, as we will be at war, we'll have work for a firing squad."

What?  Has Heller lost everything?

Ugh, that just looks bad.  What kind of dope abuses rhetorical questions like that?

Fear not!  I, Monte Pennwell, Voltar's first, only and greatest investigative reporter, have the story!

I suppose the fact that Monte's supposed to be narrating excuses how incredibly dry the story has become, like we wouldn't expect him to know what Heller's internal reactions to these events were.  But the fact that Monte is able to perfectly recall every action done or word spoken by other people a hundred years ago and twenty-three lightyears away kinda undermines this.  And then there's something that will happen in a few chapters that makes the author's reluctance to share Heller's thoughts all the more baffling.

So, let's see how these books' mentally-defective villains are going to achieve their promised victory.


Back to an Intermission
Back further to Part Seventy, Chapters Six and Seven